I have a memory of being in a bookstore and picking up a book with the title “The philosophy of Star Trek”. I am not sure of how long ago this was or even what city it was in. However, I cannot seem to find any evidence of this book on the web. There is a book entitled “Star Trek and Philosophy: The wrath of Kant“, but that is not the one I recall. I bring this up because in this book that may or may not exist, I remember reading a chapter on the philosophy of transporters. For those who have never watched the television show Star Trek, a transporter is a machine that can dematerialize something and rematerialize it somewhere else, presumably at the speed of light. Supposedly, the writers of the original show invented the device so that they could move people to planet surfaces from the starship without having to use a shuttle craft, for which they did not have the budget to build the required sets.
What the author was wondering was whether or not the particles of a transported person were the same particles as the ones in the pre-transported person or were people reassembled with stock particles lying around in the new location. The implication being that this would then illuminate the question of whether what constitutes “you” depends on your constituent particles or just the information on how to organize the particles. I remember thinking that this is a perfect example of how physics can render questions of philosophy obsolete. What we know from quantum mechanics is that particles are indistinguishable. This means that it makes no sense to ask whether a particle in one location is the same as a particle at a different location or time. A particle is only specified by its quantum properties like its mass, charge, and spin. All electrons are identical. All protons are identical and so forth. Now they could be in different quantum states, so a more valid question is whether a transporter transports all the quantum information of a person or just the classical information, which is much smaller. However, this question is really only relevant for the brain since we know we can transplant all the other organs from one person to another. The neuroscience enterprise, Roger Penrose notwithstanding, implicitly operates on the principle that classical information is sufficient to characterize a brain.